San Francisco’s False Solution
By doubling its homeless-services budget, the city is treating the symptom, not the problem.
San Francisco’s radical Left has a peculiar partner in Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. As a backer of Proposition C, he joined the Coalition on Homelessness to strong-arm high-revenue businesses into supporting bloated city government departments to address the city’s homeless problem. Companies earning gross receipts over $50 million now pay an additional tax on the excess, with rates ranging from 0.175 percent to 0.69 percent. It will garner the city between $250 and $300 million, doubling its current budget for homeless services to half a billion dollars annually.
Prop C, dubbed the “Our City, Our Home Fund,” passed in November of 2018 with 61 percent of the vote. Since then it’s been hotly contested. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has sued the city. “Approval for special taxes needs a two-thirds majority, so it’s now in the appeals process,” says senior staff attorney Laura Dougherty. “We need the clarity of the California Supreme court.” Meantime, the tax revenue is being collected, but the city is holding the funds until it gets the nod to spend them.
If you believe that lack of funding is the cause of San Francisco’s homelessness problem, then the measure is a great idea. Fifty percent of the funding would go toward housing, 25 percent to mental health and addiction programs, 15 percent to people who are at risk of becoming homeless or have recently become so, and 10 percent to short-term “residential shelters and hygiene programs.”
It won’t help. The plan is wildly expensive. After administrative costs are skimmed from the top, the remainder will be distributed among the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, and the Department of Public Health. Combined, these agencies employ hundreds of government workers, whose average compensation (salary and benefits) is $175,004. The city will then parcel out the rest to dozens of non-profit agencies, each with its own set of directors and employees. Just how much is left for those they purportedly serve remains to be seen, but chances are it won’t be enough.
The homelessness crisis in San Francisco is unquestionably dire. Recent numbers indicate a 30 percent jump in people living on the streets since 2017, and the official count is roughly 9,780. Whatever the city has been doing with its $250 million annual budget has been unsuccessful, doubtless because it is focusing on the symptom, not the illness. Despite what homeless activists may claim or what self-reported data indicate, the majority of the homeless are there because they have a substance addiction or suffer psychological troubles (and very often both), not because they’re down on their luck. “In San Francisco, 95 percent are using drugs,” says Thomas Wolf, who was once a homeless heroin user and is now a case manager for the Salvation Army, working with homeless veterans. “Everyone I came across on the street had a substance abuse problem. The statistics are wrong, so they’re basing their programs on false numbers.”
Though the new plan outlines “innovative” ideas, it offers no guarantee that it will lift people out of squalor and ensure that they receive necessary treatment and services. Once the money is released and programs enacted, will public sidewalks, parks, and alleys be clear of human waste, narcotic activity, and people having psychotic episodes? Will tents disappear and violent encounters abate? The plan doesn’t offer much confidence. In fact, the Department of Public Health recently came under fire for leaving dozens of desperately needed psychiatric beds open because they couldn’t resolve staffing issues. Financial waste and bungling within San Francisco’s city departments has been constant, and there is no indication it will change. The proposed seven-person oversight committee will include only one member with accounting experience. The rest will be a hodgepodge of individuals appointed by the mayor and board of supervisors, who come from the same city departments and nonprofits that have failed to ease the problem and in fact have made it worse.
The Coalition on Homelessness, which aggressively lobbied for the plan, opposes any intervention in homeless issues unless it will “provide housing and services.” Any police response to resident complaints about encampments, open drug use, or threatening behavior is denounced as “criminalization.” Coalition members attend meetings, protest so-called sweeps (cleaning out encampments), and verbally abuse anyone who doesn’t want massive shelters that function as havens for drug use and criminal activity to be built next to their residences.
If Benioff wants to be a hero, it is within his substantial means to achieve something that few others can afford—and which San Franciscans at large would embrace. He could assemble like-minded billionaires, tech giants, and other successful businesses, encourage their buy-in, and create a private organization dedicated to direct homeless services. They might open accessible and enticing substance-abuse and psychological-counseling centers that offer skills training, jobs, and even residences, such as those created in Colorado. The group could work with police, residents, and merchants instead of against them.
Rather than forcing companies to “donate” to the cause via taxation, which may prompt them to depart for less costly digs (San Francisco-based CEOs Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Patrick Collison of Stripe were vocal opponents of the measure), participants would be invested in its success. Technology companies are renowned for being disruptive and thinking outside the box, yet nothing could be more antiquated and entrenched than San Francisco’s ineffectual city departments. A well-run, privately funded organization could make San Franciscans—those with homes and those without—realize how poorly they’ve been served thus far.
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